In this the age of varied and unique travel experiences and more parts of the world becoming more accessible to more people, accommodation websites like Airbnb and Couchsurfing have made it so easy to find a home away from home. There are lots of questions surrounding using these sights, especially as a solo female traveler. Here are some useful tips to stay safe and have fun while Couchsurfing around the world!
From traveling on a budget as a student, to wanting a little local interaction on my solo trips, I’m a big fan of Couchsurfing.com. I have either been hosted while traveling, joined cool tours and events, or shown people around my city in Kenya, South Africa, France, Italy, and Spain. It’s hands down one of my favorite ways to break up longer trips staying at hostels/Airbnb’s alone. Couchsurfing allows me to meet people who love travel as much as I do, and to help someone enjoy the places I know best.
But having said that, lots of people have valid concerns about staying over at a stranger’s house in a foreign country/city. This is particularly true for women, and women traveling solo. So here are some tips to have a safe and fun Couchsurfing experience, whether it’s your first or eleventh time!
1) MESSAGE YOUR PREFERRED COUCHSURFING HOSTS OR PEOPLE YOU’D LIKE TO MEET
There are two main ways to find Couchsurfing hosts on the website or app. One option is to make a public post in the city you’ll be visiting. Indicate in the post the dates you’ll be there and ask for local tips or hosts. Alternatively, you can search for hosts in the area and directly request to be stay with them on specific dates.
By using the latter option, you have more control over the interaction. When you can pick and choose with whom you interact, the risks of ending up in a bad situation decline. Additionally, most Couchsurfing hosts are not constantly checking the new public posts in their area. By reaching out to hosts, you’re more likely to get a speedy response.
2) SEEMS OBVIOUS, BUT CHECK HOSTS’ REVIEWS
The Couchsurfing community is built upon trusting the kindness of strangers, but reinforcements don’t hurt. Read reviews for people as hosts, guests, and hangout buddies on their profile before committing to meet or stay with them. It works just like reviews on any hotel/rental site. You’ll also get an idea of what the person’s space and neighbourhood is like and a few hints as to what kind of host they’ll be.
One tip I heard from a host in Nice was to be wary of male hosts with lots of positive review only from women. It is rumored that these are likely more of a bed-surfing than a Couchsurfing host. Whether that’s a definite rule or not I can’t say, but hey, it’s good to keep in mind!
3) DON’T BE AFRAID TO SPECIFY THE AREA WHERE YOU WANT TO STAY
Unlike booking a hotel or Airbnb, a prospective host won’t share her address on her public profile for obvious reasons. That means you’ll only get this information after the host speaks to you and decides to give the address to you. While a person’s personality and reviews are generally my top priorities while choosing a host, location is still important. It doesn’t hurt to clarify where the place actually is before committing to basing yourself there. Yes, they’re doing you a huge favour, but you also consider your own travel needs.
It might be important to you to be close to specific attractions or events. And of course, you have to factor in travel times and costs during your stay in the city. I once accepted an offer from a lovely host, but discovered once I arrived that she was located a half hour train outside the city. Luckily, my time was flexible and I booked a hostel for a few extra days after my weekend with the host. However, that could have been avoided if I outright asked where the neighborhood was located and if I could easily get to the things I wanted to see.
4) BRING OR LEAVE A GIFT
I’ll usually bring Kenyan tea from home as a special gift for my Couchsurfing hosts. If I’m traveling through a few places, I’ll pick up a gift from the place I’ve just been. In the past, I’ve even cooked dinner or left drawings as a show of gratitude. It’s one of the unwritten rules of Couchsurfing – you get to stay somewhere for free in exchange for spending time with the host, cooking or buying a meal, etc. If you don’t manage to do that be sure to send a thank you message or a postcard once you’re back home. Keeping the connections you make on Couchsurfing for years after you meet is one of the best things about the whole experience.
5) SEND YOUR COUCHSURFING HOST’S ADDRESS TO A FRIEND/RELATIVE
I’ve never actually done this but it still seems like a good idea and I’ll probably do it next time! A quick message to a reliable friend, someone back home, or perhaps your embassy (if you’re out of your own country) to let them know where you’ll be staying. Specify the town, city and specific address and the duration of your stay. This is probably worthwhile to put your own mind at easy or those of your friends and family – particularly for ladies traveling solo.
6) ARRANGE TO ARRIVE IN THE CITY/TOWN DURING THE DAY
Depending on the city and the area in which you’ll be staying, it may do you well to plan your arrival early in the day to avoid getting lost in the dark. As for finding your Couchsurfing digs, it’s possible that you could arrive and find that you don’t like the vibe of the host or the space. I read one review where a girl had accepted an offer from a male host who informed her upon arriving that she would be sharing his bed in his room. She thankfully turned right around and booked herself a hotel. For extreme cases like that, arriving during the day allows you to have time to make other arrangements.
7) HAVE A BACKUP PLAN
In case you arrive and encounter any of the aforementioned issues or others, have a backup plan. This will make it easier for you to make good decisions and not compromise on your comfort or safety. Search hostels or cheap hotels nearby where you can stay if need be. Be sure to have the phone number and address to make the move as easy as possible.
8) RESPECT YOUR HOST’S SPACE AND PRIVACY
Although most hosts want their guests to feel at “home” when far away from home, keep in mind that you are in someone else’s home. Keep your room or area clean orderly, clean up after yourself, don’t bring home random friends, and don’t give your host’s address or personal information away except for the aforementioned safety precautions. I don’t usually photograph my hosts’ homes, and avoid sharing our photos together on social media or my blog without permission. (You’ll find that in this post, I tried to include as many photos of activities I found on the Couchsurfing website, or places I like to show people around when they’re in my city.)
9) PAY IT FORWARD
Couchsurfing should be an enriching experience for everyone – guest, host, or local guide. You can offer to host or show someone around your area for a day. That way you get to “travel” through the eyes of foreigners in your own home. You never know whose trip you’re making exponentially better with your advice or company.
And there you go, a crash course in staying safe, being a good guest and living your best Couchsurfing life! Using the website has made my trips to new places fun, comfortable, and full of connections with fantastic people. I hope this encourages you to try it out if you haven’t already, or to continue to use the site to fully experience the places you travel to!
We hope that this article has given you some useful tips for your next Couchsurfing adventure. If you have any questions about the destination please leave these in the comments below.
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Read More About Traveling On A Budget:
- 13 Ways To Save Money To Travel
- 12 Ways To Make Money While Traveling
- How I Travelled To 11 Countries By Working Abroad
- 8 Proven Ways To Stay Abroad For Free
- Top 10 Budget Travel Tips & Tricks You Need To Keep In Mind
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